OMAHA — One of two controversial abortion laws put on the books in Nebraska this spring was likely blocked for good on Wednesday, and the future of the other law is murky.
Attorney General Jon Bruning announced Wednesday that he'd agreed to a permanent federal injunction against enforcement of a law requiring health screenings for women seeking abortions. Citing an earlier ruling temporarily blocking the law from taking effect, his spokeswoman said Bruning believes that there's little chance the law would prevail in court against a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
"Losing this case would require Nebraska taxpayers to foot the bill for Planned Parenthood's legal fee," spokeswoman Shannon Kingery said. "We will not squander the state's resources on a case that has very little probability of winning."
But the state's leading anti-abortion group said it expects Bruning's office to throw its resources behind preserving the other law should it be challenged. That law — the first of its kind in the U.S. —would ban abortions starting at 20 weeks based on assertions from some doctors that fetuses feel pain at that stage of development.
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"Any suggestion that Attorney General Bruning is shirking his responsibility to defend pro-life legislation is not shared by Nebraska Right to Life," executive director Julie Schmit-Albin said. If the ban is challenged in court, she said, "we are confident that the attorney general will vigorously defend any attack on that law."
The ban is scheduled take effect Oct. 15, but it also could face a legal fight. Leroy Carhart, a physician whose clinic in Bellevue is among the few in the nation to offer late-term abortions, has taken on other abortion laws before the U.S. Supreme Court. And his backer, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, hinted in an April letter to Gov. Dave Heineman that it would challenge Nebraska's ban.
Lawyers on both sides of the debate have said abortion-rights groups may choose not to take on Nebraska's ban because of fears that losing could change the legal landscape for abortion nationwide.